Perhaps you've heard of "survivor guilt" which Wikipedia defines as: a mental condition that occurs when a person perceives themselves to have done wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not. It may be found among survivors of combat, natural disasters, epidemics, among the friends and family of those who have taken their life and in non-mortal situations such as among those whose colleagues are laid off. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV survivor guilt is seen as a significant symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Undoubtedly, many of those whose lives were spared but were on the Sandy Hook elementary campus at the time of the mass shooting on December 14th will grapple with this very difficult aspect of healing.
For the rest of us in the country, no matter how disturbed we've been, how heavy our hearts are as we consider the struggle of the families whose lives have been forever changed by the mass killings of innocent children and adults, slowly, we will start to move on with our lives. Yet, we must now navigate our way with the knowledge of this horrendous event fresh in our minds. We may realize that the families in Connecticut have scarcely had a chance to move out of shock to even contemplate the depth of their grief. Yet, we move on nonetheless.
We realize our good fortune to be able to come together with friends and family during the holidays and celebrate another year lived and look towards new goals for the year before us, yet, we hesitate. How can we rejoice in our good fate when the lives of others have been so irreparably shattered? We shudder to think that it might have been our kids' school that was targeted. How can we cherish the blessings we have when it might have been us so horribly damaged? It's hard to come out and say it aloud, but this is the thought so many of us struggle with. We think, "How will those poor, innocent people cope with loss so profound?" with the echoing thought, "What if it was us? How would we ever manage to cope?"
It's hard for us to hold something so tragic in our thoughts for long. We have a myriad of ways to distract ourselves from imagining the pain of those families. Yet, our focus constantly returns. Guilt weighs heavily on us as we count our blessings. We feel a depth of love as we look into our children's eyes and give a deep sigh of relief that they are still with us, knowing that the parents of those six-year-olds in Connecticut will never be granted this opportunity again. We wish we could do something to help lessen their pain.
It's not in the comprehending of the depth of their anguish that helps them, for it is simply incomprehensible for those of us who have never been touched by such trauma. Instead, it's the earnest desire to understand how unacceptable this event is. "Never again," the words used to forever ban a tragedy like the holocaust from ever happening again, come to mind. We must ensure that "never again" shall an event like what happened at Sandy Hook ever come to pass. Let us not shake our heads as we wonder how the survivors will get on with their lives. Rather, let us come together to appreciate that we have the power in our means to solve the problems that allowed this event to occur in the first place. Instead of being immobilized by the trauma of the situation; let us vow action every single day until our world is safe from such an event from ever occurring again.